How Critical Is The Missouri Sports Betting Alliance To Legalization?

Written By Adam Hensley on February 21, 2024
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Sonny Gray

When it comes to the push for legal sports betting in the Show Me State, the Missouri Sports Betting Alliance is a major player.

The coalition comprises representatives from the state’s six professional sports teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. The group is collecting signatures on a referendum that would give voters the choice to legalize Missouri sports betting in November.

The group’s proposal needs to receive at least 170,000 signatures from residents by May to get it on the ballot. A 2022 ballot initiative failed to garner the required signatures.

Ultimately, the coalition’s success will hinge on its ability to capture the attention of Missouri residents and receive the support of sports fans across the state.

Hoskins could stymie efforts to get a sports betting bill passed again this year

Missouri sports betting is a hot issue at the statehouse in Jefferson City. Most lawmakers favor legalizing it, but one major obstacle remains in place.

Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins filed Senate Bill 824 earlier this year. His bill aims to legalize sports betting, but only if video lottery terminals (VLTs) are legalized. VLTs are the slots-like gaming machines found in gas stations, restaurants and taverns throughout Missouri.

Hoskins’ insistence on legalizing VLTs along with sports betting has killed efforts to pass sports betting legislation the last two sessions of the Missouri General Assembly. Hoskins seems intent on doing the same this year.

“I’ll be an obstructionist until I get my way.”

Aside from Hoskins’ legislation, there is another sports betting bill in the Senate, a House Bill that cleared its second committee and the ballot initiative efforts.

Most lawmakers do not want to legalize VLTs. Casinos in Missouri are adamantly opposed. Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told NPR that he’s not optimistic that sports betting will pass this year at the statehouse.

“Both sides are pretty entrenched.”

If that’s the case, the ballot initiative is the last hope for 2024 legalization.

Members of an Ohio coalition stuck together to get what it wanted

Ohio, which launched online sports betting on Jan. 1, 2023, had a similar group representing professional sports teams.

The Ohio Professional Sports Coalition became a major force at the Ohio General Assembly. Teams represented included:

  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Cleveland Guardians
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Columbus Crew FC

Originally, Ohio only permitted commercial casinos, lottery outlets, bars and restaurants to open retail sportsbooks.

But the pro teams wanted a piece of the pie. As a result, lawmakers allowed sportsbooks at their stadiums and arenas. All eight of those teams currently have partnerships with a sportsbook operator.

Consultant Sara Slane advised the Cincinnati Reds and Columbus Blue Jackets throughout the process. She told Sports Business Journal that it was an impressive “all-hands-on-deck effort.”

“I have worked with a ton of operators, a ton of coalitions and a ton of teams. In this process, they did not relent. And they did not break with each other. The coalition was incredibly well managed and maintained. And it involved everyone. It was everyone being on the same page. We spoke every single week, twice a week. We held firm in our position that the teams should receive a license, and in the end, we were successful.”

Texas has formed a similar pro sports team group

One state in a situation similar to Missouri is Texas. The Longhorn State does not allow sports betting, but its professional sports teams want that to change.

The Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Astros and every other pro sports team and venue in the state comprises the Texas Sports Betting Alliance. The PGA Tour is on board, too, along with FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Fanatics.

According to its website, the alliance wants to legalize sports betting to promote individual freedom, protect residents from “an industry operating in the shadows” and support property tax relief.

The group’s first swing at legalizing the industry in 2021 failed, but it is aiming to have a more significant impact in 2025, the next year the Texas Legislature meets.

Does the Missouri coalition have what it takes?

It’s not uncommon for professional teams to be on board with legal sports betting. Many have partnerships with sports betting operators. It will be the same with Missouri’s professional sports teams if the alliance is successful in its efforts this year. FanDuel and DraftKings have contributed $250,000 to the coalition so far.

The coalition hopes to circumvent the political stalemate and go directly to residents. A recent poll conducted by Emerson College showed that 62% of Missouri voters support legalized sports betting. St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt said the coalition is focused on one outcome.

“We are united in our goal of supporting the legalization of sports wagering in Missouri in a reasonable, safe and responsible way that is good for our teams, our fans, our Missouri teachers and our other citizens of Missouri.”

Even if Hoskins can’t be swayed this year, DeWitt believes the coalition has the strength to get sports betting legalized in the Show Me State.

“As we are not optimistic that this pattern will change during the upcoming legislative session, we are currently proceeding with an initiative petition campaign to put the issue of legalized sports wagering on the ballot for Missouri voters in 2024.”

Photo by AP Photo / Jeff Roberson
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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